Friday, March 13, 2009

Depth.

Last time, I talked about the advantage the Royals can garner by keeping their worst players out of the lineup. But this was really a smaller point in a larger overall theme for the Royals. As beneficial as it is for the Royals to keep the likes of Ross Gload and Tony Pena Jr out of the lineup, it’s even more beneficial to keep them off the roster entirely.

Making sure that your Opening Day lineup is major-league caliber from top to bottom is an important first step to a winning season, but it’s just that: a first step. The baseball season is long. Players get hurt. Bench players become everyday players. Minor leaguers become major leaguers. Depth matters, and say what you will about the moves Dayton Moore made this winter, but one thing the moves accomplished was to add depth to the roster. Indeed, the Royals are as deep as I can recall them being in a long, long time.

Let’s run a thought experiment here, while hoping it remains just that: let’s imagine that we learn this week that someone on the roster has suffered a major injury and will be out indefinitely, perhaps for the entire season. How would the Royals be affected?

If it’s Coco Crisp, then David DeJesus moves to center, Mark Teahen starts in left. Impact: significant on defense, but a wash or possibly even an improvement on offense.

If it’s DeJesus, he’s replaced with Teahen. Impact: mild.

If it’s Jose Guillen, he’s replaced with Teahen. Impact: none, maybe an improvement.

If it’s Alex Gordon, he’s replaced with Teahen. Impact: significant, but survivable.

If it’s Mike Aviles, he’s replaced with, well, I’m not sure. Willie Bloomquist probably moves over from second base, and Pena almost certainly makes the roster. Impact: enormous.

If it’s Bloomquist, then Alberto Callaspo secures his hold on the everyday job at second base, but Pena makes the roster as a utility player. Impact: an upgrade in the lineup, a downgrade on the bench – at worst, a wash overall.

If it’s Callaspo, then we’ll be treated to the Spork on an everyday basis, with occasional doses of Pena to remind us of how much worse it could be. Impact: significant.

If it’s Mike Jacobs, then Ryan Shealy likely makes the roster along with Gload, and a quasi-platoon probably plays out between the two of them – at least until Kila Ka’aihue is deemed ready. Impact: mild to moderate.

If it’s Billy Butler, same thing, same impact.

If it’s John Buck or Miguel Olivo, the other guy gets the starting job, and Brayan Pena gets the backup job he is ably suited for. Impact: none.

If it’s a member of the starting rotation, well, the Royals have six starting pitchers for five spots. (Or at least, the Royals think they have six starting pitchers – the rest of us think that Horacio Ramirez is a ticking time bomb.) Impact: as long as they have to replace just one starter, mild.

If it’s Joakim Soria, a month ago this would have been an absolutely devastating injury – can you say “now pitching the ninth inning, Kyle Farnsworth”? – but Juan Cruz is more than capable of filling in as closer, and in fact would make for a better closer than anyone the Royals had from 1999 to 2006. Impact: mild to moderate.

If it’s another right-handed reliever, the Royals are already having trouble finding space for both Robinson Tejeda (who absolutely should make the roster) and Doug Waechter, and Carlos Rosa is almost ready for his close-up. Impact: minimal.

If it’s a left-handed reliever, it might actually make the front office’s job easier trying to decide between John Bale and Jimmy Gobble as the second left-hander behind Ron Mahay. (I’m expecting the Royals to DL Bale even if he’s ready to start the year, giving him some time to “rehab” in Omaha and pushing any roster decisions a few weeks into the future.) Impact: None.

The point here isn’t that the Royals could weather the loss of any one of their players equally – obviously, losing Zack Greinke would hurt more than losing Brian Bannister. The point is that at almost every position, the Royals have a backup plan that is almost starter-quality. Some of their backup plans would have been starters for the Royals a few years ago – actually, their main backup plan (Teahen) was a starter for many years.

This might seem like a small thing, but it’s not. The Yankees just lost Alex Rodriguez for a month or two, and their backup plan appears to be Cody Ransom. For all the money they’ve spent on their starters, the reality is that the Yankees’ backup third baseman can’t hold a candle to the Royals’ backup third baseman – which is why the Teahen-to-the-Yankees rumors started in the first place.

Teahen’s not just the backup third baseman, though, he’s also the backup for all three outfield spots. For that reason alone, I think the Royals would be foolish to trade him, and I doubt they are seriously considering that option anyway. A DeJesus-Crisp-Guillen outfield is many things, but durable is not one of them. None of the three missed significant time with an injury in 2008 or 2007, but in 2006 all three outfielders missed at least 43 games. I’d be surprised if Teahen doesn’t start at least a few dozen games in the outfield this year.

But with Teahen covering the four corners, and Bloomquist covering the middle of the field, the Royals have covered seven positions with two players about as well as it can reasonably be covered. Even with just a four-man bench – and don’t get me started again on the silliness of a 12-man pitching staff – the Royals can carry a backup catcher and still have a bench spot to carry the best available hitter. They might carry Gload instead, but at least the option is there.

Viewed from this perspective, the signing of Cruz is one of the final pieces of the puzzle, because an injury to Soria that would have previously been crippling is now something that only requires crutches and a good chiropractor. Really, the only position that the Royals don’t have an adequate firewall for is shortstop. That’s right: Mike Aviles is the most irreplaceable player on the Royals’ roster. (I’ll take “sentences I’d never thought I’d write a year ago” for $1000, Alex.)

If anything, the Royals may have focused on depth a little too much, in the sense that there are a few positions in which an injury might actually help the team. The Royals would exchange power for OBP in the event of an injury to Guillen, an exchange that might benefit the team overall. An injury to Bloomquist would mean more playing time for Callaspo, and an injury to Ramirez would mean the Royals would not have to use precious time in April finding out whether he has any business starting in the major leagues any more.

I’m rooting for Ramirez, both because I have no choice and because it’s important for a major league team to go into a season with at least six quality options for the rotation. The Royals had a remarkably healthy rotation last season, and they still suffered two significant injuries, one to John Bale (which, in all honesty, was predictable) early in the season, and one to his replacement, Luke Hochevar in August. (Kyle Davies replaced Brett Tomko at the end of May, but the only injury involved was the one to the ego of the scout that told Joe Posnanski last spring that Tomko could win 15 games.)

Three-fifths of the Opening Day rotation (Greinke, Meche, Bannister) stayed healthy all season, and the Royals still needed eight starters to get through the year. Starting the year with Bannister stashed away in Omaha, waiting for a spot to open up, is hardly the worst idea in the world – particularly since the Royals don’t have any imminent help ready on the farm. (No, Brandon Duckworth does not qualify as “help”. Carlos Rosa is a reliever now. And Daniel Cortes is not anywhere close to being ready, and is one pitcher I really hope the Royals do not rush.) But this is all predicated on Ramirez actually getting people out.

I’m rooting for perfect health, but that’s like rooting for 162 wins: it will never happen, and even dreaming about such an outcome just distracts from preparing for the alternative. This year, for the first time in many years, the Royals appear prepared for the inevitable. Hope is not a strategy, but roster depth is. And it’s one reason why I think the Royals could make this a very interesting season.

32 comments:

Jimmy said...

Call me a pessimist, but it seems to me that the Royals have a bunch of replacement-level talent available this year. Although this is a step up from previous years, it's still not the way to build a winning franchise. I'm just concerned that the Royals are too content to plug in league-average OPS players up and down the roster. On offense, I just don't think the Royals can go anywhere until some combination of Gordon/Butler/somebody else develop into all-star players.

MoreHRs&LesNorman said...

We spent a lot of time lamenting sweeney's shortcomings, but was he really the problem or was it the Gloads and Penas batting up and down the lineup?

Great post, Rany. All 25 guys (and more) are going to see the field this summer and this is the best Royals roster from #10-#30 in forever.

You mentioned the Yankees, but don't forget the Cubs. They are going to have two guys on their opening day roster that got cut in KC: Joey and Esty

Tim said...

To highlight a point in the article, I looked at all AL teams last year. On average, the pitcher with the 5th most starts had roughly 18 starts, the pitcher with the 6th most starts had 11, while the 7th and above pitchers with the most had 19 starts.

So whether it be due to injury or ineffectiveness, a typical AL team got almost 25% of their starts not from the top 5. Granted some teams were great (see TB, and ChiSox).

Casper said...

Where/when was it announced by the organization that Rosa was being moved permanently to the bullpen?

Es-tonea-pesta said...

"until Kila Ka'aihue is deemed ready"? He turns 25 in a couple weeks and we all know what he can do in the minors. If he's not ready now they should trade him to Japan or something.

Nathan said...

Jimmy,

There's a huge difference between replacement level and league average. A roster full of hitters with league average OPS, if you can swing it, may not be the sexiest thing ever, but it will score enough runs for a good pitching team to make some noise. That, combined with the continuing hope that Gordon and Butler will emerge as all stars, seems to be the strategy this season.

The Royals aren't going to give full seasons of playing time to below-replacement talent this year. That is a huge step in the right direction. Replacing Pena and Gload with Spork and Jacobs is a gigantic improvement, even though the latter playeres aren't superstars.

Tim Lacy said...

Great post! I hadn't given a lot of thought to ~each~ of our replacement possibilities. I like Teahen, but I'm not 100 percent sold that he can handle everything. I feel like his bat is too hot and cold. In sum, I think he's slightly over-rated.

And call me an old timer, but I'm most worried about pitching. I'd like to have one more bona fied starter in AAA. Maybe we'll be there next year. But, add to the litany, providing few to no ABs for Pena and Gload will help tremendously on the other side of the ledger. - TL

Anonymous said...

Rany,

Actually the Royals have the same depth as they always have, its just that the 2009 starters and backups are league average while in the past the starters AND the backups... all sucked.

Chris

Mundenite said...

Rany

This American Life! You're everywhere

Anonymous said...

I hate to root for any of the Royals to do badly, but I'm not too upset to see Gload hitting .207 and Pena hitting .160. I really don't want anybody to consider keeping them.

As for the open jobs, it looks like Bloomquist is winning the second base job and Hochevar is beating out Bannister as a starter. I'm wondering if Heath Phillips might beat out Ramirez for the other starting assignment.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who thinks the rotation should be Greinke, Meche, Davies, Hochevar, and Tejeda? That would allow Bannister to stay in Omaha, allow Ramirez to be the 2nd or 3rd lefty reliever, and perhaps make room for Peralta or Rosa in the bullpen as well.

Anonymous said...

You are not the only one but they really think they need a lefty in the rotation.

ChaimMKeller said...

Rany, you keep talking about Pena getting the nod for backup infielder if either Callaspo, Bloomquist or Aviles goes down, but what about Tug Hulett?

Matt said...

Where do you stand on the Olivo over Buck decision? Also how many home runs do you think Jacobs could hit if he gets closer to 600 ABs instead of the 477 he got last year, since he can DH we don't have to take him out for a defensive replacement in the 6th like the Marlins did.

kcghost said...

How silly is it that with three weeks left of spring training the Royals are still considering Pena and Gload for roster spots?? Those guys should have been sent packing in December.

Frankly, I wouldn't be shocked to see Teahen and Buck cut just before the season starts to save $5M.

Anonymous said...

My problem is that I'm entirely unconvinced that Callaspo is even replacement level at 2B. That spot, to me, is where the Royals have their biggest on-going hole. Bloomquist is probably replacement level, but that's intentionally damning with faint praise. I'm hopeful of 8 major-league bats, but 9 seems outside the Royals reach, unless Teahen can handle yet another defensive transition.

Sean said...

kcghost,
I couldnt agree more. How Pena and Gload are finding ways to play everyday is killing me. My 4 (if they only go w/ 4 bench) would be Shealy, Buck, Teahen, Bloomquist w/Callaspo getting the 2nd base nod. We'll see. I too am rooting for HoRam to win the job because, like Rany said we have no choice. The R's are forcing the position on to him like they did w/ Tomko last year so hopefully he at least picks up some wins in April before they realize it was a mistake.

Nathan said...

What advantage is there in having a lefty in the rotation? The other team will know who's starting, of course, and adjust their linup accordingly. Seems to me we should just take your best five pitchers and leave handedness considerations for the bullpen.

Anonymous said...

We actually have some amazing versatility in that Teahen and Bloomquist can play any position in the infield or outfield. That should allow us to dump Gload and Pena and give those spots to guys who can actually hit.

Anonymous said...

Teahen keeps hitting home runs.

Shelby said...

Re: Jacobs --

I was under the assumption that people thought Jacobs couldn't hit 32 home runs here in KC because the Marlins' ballpark was way more homer-friendly.

Upon inspection of the layout, it's virtually the same as The K.

Was there some other reason that people are unconvinced of Jacobs' ability to hit 30 dingers?

gbewing said...

who says teahen is better than Cody Ransom? Are we really condifent that is the case?

Justin said...

This American Life!!!

I absolutely love that show.. how great to hear you on it... too bad it was for such a terrible reason. Maybe when Ira Glass has his annual roto draft preview (a podcast you just can't afford to miss... Ira can tell you the 11th man in every bullpen in the league) you will be invited.

Antonio. said...

I am unconvinced that he'll hit 30 here because it was such an outrageous jump. 2 HR more than what PECOTA projected, making it improbable. He might do it again, he might not. I have doubts.

But there's more to ball park factors than layout.

Nathan said...

There's definitely more to park factors than dimensions, but 2 HR more than Pecota is hardly a remarkable deviation.

tony said...

>>How silly is it that with three weeks left of spring training the Royals are still considering Pena and Gload for roster spots??>>

Maybe they're getting a lot of spring training playing time in hope that someone eles might take interest in them.

stranger things have happened - the odgers wanted berroa, after all.

And Gload might make a decent option off the bench for a NL team with a offensive minded 1b who is too old and immovable to play past the eight inning. Maybe instead of getting stuck with 100% of his salary we could work somehing out where we're only stuck with 75%. and/or get some low minors filler players and hope lighting strikes.

Gload might be on the MLb opening days roster, but I'd guess not.

I'd be stunned if Pena is

drewfuss said...

I agree, hearing Rany on TAL was great (without regard to the circumstances).

However, Rany, you need to be careful what you write here... you wrote about how great it was to have some depth finally, and we end up with Sidney Ponson. Hide the buffett, indeed. And the judges!

swimmerpie3331 said...

This is totally unrelated to baseball, but I very excited to be listening to my This American Life podcast today, only to find some guy named Rany reading a story!

I thought your piece was excellent. Keep up the good work - we need more modern, moderate, patriotic Muslim voices out there.

Now back to baseball. No more Gobble?

Anonymous said...

Rany, you've gotta KNOW that we are ALL EXPECTING a piece about Gobble's release. I know his #'s last year were horrid but he did seem to find something in his las 10 or 11 appearances. Couldn't we find ANY takers for him even for a low-level prospect? I betcha he gets picked up by a NL team quicksmart and he may even make us regret seeing the back end of him. What are YOUR thoughts?

Go Royals!!! C-ya, AusSteve

drewfuss said...

http://www.kansascity.com/sports/royals/story/1095239.html

Bob Dutton reports on possible planning for opening day rotation... This makes me sad, because if KC goes with Meche for opener in Chicago, and Greinke for game two, that means no Zack vs. Yankees at all for the first home series, and it means neither Meche nor Greinke would start the home opener. I think that setup would lead to the #4 starter in the home opener, with Meche and one of Davies/Hochevar/HoRam to round out the Yankees series. Bad idea!

My personal plan would be to go ahead with Meche vs. ChiSox in the opener, and hold Zack back for the home opener (then Meche vs. Yankees in game 2)... Then the rotation goes (1) Greinke, (2) Meche, (3) Davies, (4) Hochevar, (5) HoRam, until further changes are required due to performance/injury.

Thoughts? Lemme know if I screwed up the dates/math.

Nathan said...

drewfuss,

While that might be more entertaining to the opening day crowd, it runs the risk of getting one less start from Grienke this year than we otherwise would. Given that the Royals are somewhat hopeful of contending this year, is that risk worth it?

Antonio. said...

It was 2 more than his 90-percentile. That's a HUGE deviation from what it was predicting...and going up 15 HR in one season is a huge deviation as well.